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Church State Issues

'Dispute' almost led to fiery death for Galileo

Apr 23, 2014

Arizona Republic

The Catholic Church convicted Galileo of heresy and sentenced him to burn at the stake for his crime. Galileo then admitted that the Sun really did rotate around the Earth as the mythology in the Bible says and his sentence was commuted to house arrest for the rest of his life

Ron Feigen 6:09 p.m. MST April 22, 2014

Regarding "Catholic Church didn't push flat-Earth theory," (Opinions, Sunday):

I found it interesting that the letter writer, in his eloquent defense of the Church, describes Galileo being dragged in front of the Inquisition for being a heretic as a "dispute with the pope." This was the same Inquisition that had burned to death fellow astronomer Father Bruno.

To avoid being burned at the stake, Galileo recanted his assertion that the Earth revolves around the sun and spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

— Ron Feigen, Scottsdale


Catholic Church didn't push flat-Earth theory

M.J. Conrad 2:45 p.m. MST April 19, 2014

Regarding "Not every belief is entitled to deference" (Opinions, Tuesday):

A letter writer said the "Earth wasn't flat just because the Catholic Church deeply (and violently) believed so just a few centuries back."

He repeats a common anti-Catholic myth that began in the 19th century, first appearing in a work of fiction by Washington Irving and later repeated in Andrew Dickson White's 1896 book, "A History of the Warfare of Science With Theology in Christendom." which has been widely discredited by modern historians of science.

Christopher Columbus and his detractors argued over the size, not the shape, of the Earth, which both sides believed to be a globe, and the Catholic Church was not a participant in the dispute.

Galileo's dispute with the pope was not over the shape of the Earth, which both sides believed to be a sphere, but over its place in the cosmos and the manner in which Galileo published his findings.

The Catholic Church never made an authoritative claim that the Earth was flat, and the majority of the fathers of the Catholic Church from early times all believed and taught that the Earth was a globe.

The letter writer might wish to read Edward Grant's 2001 book "God and Reason in the Middle Ages," in which he establishes that all educated people from the Middle Ages forward, including those in the Catholic Church, were aware that the Earth was a sphere, not flat.

—M.J. Conrad, Phoenix


Justus Sustermans

Adapted from an essay by Saswato R. Das on Galileo's contribution to science.

Galileo Galilei, born in 1564 in Pisa, Italy, is considered by many to be the father of modern science. A physicist and mathematician, Galileo helped establish the scientific method, which is based on observation and experiment.

In 1609, he demonstrated a simple contraption to the Venetian Senate that set in motion a revolution in scientific thought. His device was a simple telescope — two glass lenses at the ends of a leather tube that magnified objects nine times — that would forever change man's understanding of the universe. The effect challenged the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church but led to the birth of modern astronomy.

Galileo, who was not the first to create a telescope, improved his "optick tube," studying the moon and discovering its craters, mountains and valleys. He found circling Jupiter the moons of Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. Studying the Milky Way, he said he could see 10 times the number of stars that were visible to the naked eye.

His observations supported the Copernican view of the universe, not the geocentric view espoused by the church. Copernicus argued that Earth was not necessarily at the center of the universe. With Galileo's studies and Johannes Kepler's laws of planetary motion, the Copernican theory supplanted Ptolemaic astronomy after 1,400 years of acceptance.

Galileo published Siderius Nuncius (Starry Messenger) in 1610. Unlike the voluminous treatises of the day that were written in baroque prose, Galileo's remarkable 24-page treatise was highly readable. It started an intellectual fever that spread across Europe.

But in 1633, the church condemned Galileo as a heretic. At the Inquisition, he was forced to recant to avoid being burned at the stake. He was sentenced to house arrest for the remaining eight years of his life and died in 1642 at the age of 77.

In 1992, 359 years later, Pope John Paul II acknowledged that the church had erred in condemning Galileo for asserting


Giordano Bruno, born as Filippo Bruno, was an Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician, poet, and astrologer. He is celebrated for his cosmological theories, which went even further than the then-novel Copernican model: while supporting heliocentrism, Bruno also correctly proposed that the Sun was just another star moving in space, and claimed as well that the universe contained an infinite number of inhabited worlds, identified as planets orbiting other stars. He was noteworthy in the 16th century for promoting a pantheistic conception of God, to the dismay of the Catholic Church.

Beginning in 1593, Bruno was tried for heresy by the Roman Inquisition on charges including denial of the Trinity, denial of the divinity of Christ, denial of virginity of Mary, and denial of Transubstantiation. The Inquisition found him guilty, and in 1600 he was burned at the stake.